Monica Lewinsky has just given a speech titled “The price of shame” at the TED conference (Technology, Entertainment and Design) to call for a more forgiving, compassionate Internet.
Monica Lewinsky talks at TED conference
The former White House intern’s affair with President Bill Clinton made headlines all over the world when it became public knowledge in 1998. She describes herself as one of the first cyberbullying victims, saying that the Internet created a culture where people enjoyed viewing others’ shame online.
Her speech in fact received a standing ovation. It’s only the second time she’s spoken out in public after she disappeared from public life in 2005 – in October she also spoke at Forbes’ Under 20 Summit.
She began her speech by joking she was the only 40-something who did not wish to be 22 again.
“At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss. At the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences.”
But she said the Internet had made her own humiliation far worse.
“In 1998, after having been swept up in an improbable romance, I was then swept up into the eye of a political, legal and media maelstrom like we had never seen before.”
And the scandal was, she said, “brought to you by the digital revolution”.
“When the story broke it broke online. It was one of the first times that the traditional news had been usurped by the internet for a major news story,” she told the TED audience.
Even though there was no social media and no Facebook in 1998 as we know it now, images of Lewinsky quickly went viral online, as did comments to articles and jokes based on the details of her affair.
Publicly humiliated on the Internet
“I went from being a private figure to being a publicly humiliated one worldwide. There were mobs of virtual stone-throwers.”
“I was branded a tart, a slut, a whore, a bimbo. I lost my reputation and my dignity and I almost lost my life.”
“Seventeen years ago there was no name for it but now we call it cyberbullying or online harassment,” she said.
UK charity Childline reported a 87% increase in calls related to cyberbullying last year and, according the children’s charity NSPCC, one in five children is now bullied online.
The TED conference has gained a lot of publicity in recent years, and it’s good to see such a varied selection of topics once again. It remains to be seen whether Monica Lewinsky’s please for a more compassionate Internet actually make a difference, however.
Have you been publicly humiliated online? Do you have any regrets for things you’ve done and shared on social media? Let us know in the comments below – we promise not to share!